Building a fantasy world is fun, and for the writer wandering into the realm of historical fantasy, it becomes an amazing discovery.
Part III: Historical, Urban and Supernatural Fantasy in Bells of Prosper Station and Black Springs Abbey
Fantasy is a genre of speculative fiction containing elements that are not realistic. It has numerous subgenres including romantic, supernatural, quest, steampunk, mythic, urban and historical.
Bells of Prosper Station and Black Springs Abbey are historical fantasies set in the oil heritage regions of Lambton County. The former, set in the nineteenth century, is tinted with urban and steam punk imagery while the latter strays into the supernatural form of ‘ghost story’.
Bells of Prosper Station: The Story
With Hallowmas approaching, time travelers, Azur Moonstorey and companions, exit Creekside’s station library to board the midnight ghost train bound for nineteenth-century Prosper Station. Their mission: to rescue Azur’s sister from the lairs of psychic vampires in eerie Vapourlea.
Bells of Prosper Station: Historical Elements
Research in the county archives revealed extremes in Victorian society which readily converted into fiction:
“There’s someone downstairs,” whispered Dilly.
“Probably Charlene,” mumbled Azur sleepily.
“The servant? But it’s only six o’clock.”
“I thought I heard voices,” said Mabel, entering the room in her nightgown. “I was up checking on the twins.”
“Mabel, this is my friend, Dillian. I hope you don’t mind that I invited her here for the night.”
“I was hoping that that you’d find your friend and bring her here,” smiled the girl. “Glad to make your acquaintance, Dillian.”
“Nice to meet you, Mabel,” said the visitor. “I appreciate your hospitality.”
“We were wondering if we heard Charlene downstairs,” said Azur.
“I hope so. She has to prepare breakfast and make our lunches for school,” replied Mabel. “She never seems to get all her work done.”
“She has a long day,” noted Dilly.
“Not really,” said Mabel. “Mama lets her leave at nine each night instead of ten like most people do. She only stays later if there’s an evening social, and then she sleeps over because it’s late by the time the guests leave. Of course, we haven’t had any parties since Papa died.”
“How many days a week does Charlene work?” asked Dilly.
“Why every day, of course.” Mabel laughed at the absurdity of the question before adding, “But she gets two hours off on Sunday mornings to attend church. And every afternoon – unless we have company over – she has two hours to amuse herself as she wishes.”
“Does everyone work seven days a week?”
“Labourers and clerks get one day off,” explained the girl. “Is it not the same where you come from?”
“We usually get two days off a week,” said Azur without elaboration. “I hope you don’t find our questions intrusive.”
“Not at all,” said Mabel. “It’s nice to have someone like you take an interest in my boring life.”
“Do you mind me asking when your father died and how long you’re required to wear black?” asked Azur.
“Papa died in the spring,” said the girl, tears welling in her eyes.
“I’m sorry,” sympathized Dilly.
“Did you know the Queen is still wearing black although Prince Albert died years ago?”
“She must have loved him a lot,” said Dilly.
“Oh, she did!” sighed Mabel. “To answer your question, Mama said that Maude and I can start wearing our regular clothes when she gets back from Guelph. I’m not sure how long Mama will stay in mourning. At least a year, I should expect.”
Bells of Prosper Station: Fantasy Elements
There is scarier dimension to nineteenth-century Prosper Station:
Suddenly, Azur felt something unseen brush against her as a seductive voice quietly intoned, “Lovely lady, how kind of you to visit.”
She froze in fear, holding her breath. Then cool fingers caressed her face. She gasped.
“Who’s there?” she whispered.
The silence that engulfed her was more terrifying than the mystery voice or the chilly touch.
“Help me, somebody help me,” she whimpered.
“I’m here,” said an agreeable male voice.
A tall being with dark almond-shaped eyes stood before her. Attired in soft leather leggings and tunic, he had blue skin and shoulder-length black hair.
Azur regarded him wordlessly.
“I am Zhiab,” he said.
“Was it you who touched me?” she asked.
“No,” he assured her. “I am a guardian.”
“Yes, a Novapetrol.”
“Oh, thank heavens,” she said. “My grandmother told me to look for you if you didn’t approach me first.”
“You must take shelter until the dawn,” said Zhiab.
“Several guesthouses are nearby.”
“Will you take me to one?”
“You must do this yourself,” he said kindly.
“You’re not leaving!” she cried.
Zhiab nodded slightly. “I will come when you are in peril.”
“I’m in peril now!”
“Only if you don’t take cover.”
Black Springs Abbey: The Story
Five years after returning from captivity in the eerie dimension of Vapourlea, Hilma Moonstorey is still beset by anxieties and insecurities. Encouraged by young police constable, Garth Mayfield, to take a position at a dilapidated abbey on the outskirts of Black Springs, Hilma soon discovers that the abbey houses not only elderly nuns but ghosts and dark secrets.
Black Springs Abbey: Historical Elements
In earlier times Black Springs Abbey was a finishing school … of sorts:
“There’s time for a brief tour of the abbey before lunch,” said the abbess rising from her desk. “We’ll start in the front hall.”
Once more Hilma found herself following a nun through panelled halls, this time without Garth’s reassuring presence.
As in most of the abbey, the floors of the two-storey high entrance hall were of wide polished oak planks, worn but painstakingly polished. Hilma recognized that she was on the other side of the heavy front doors she had noticed on her arrival. From this perspective, however, sunlight illuminated the door’s stain glass transom window in vibrant jewel colours.
Hilma’s gaze moved from the lovely window to a magnificent oak staircase winding upward out of sight.
“Our sleeping quarters are on the floor above,” said the abbess. “There are seventy cells on the second floor and fifty on the third. Of course we only use a few of them now.”
“Cells?” wondered Hilma aloud.
The abbess laughed. “That’s what we call our little rooms,” she explained.
“Like rooms in a college dorm,” said Hilma.
The abbess nodded.
“There must have been a lot of people living here once,” said Hilma.
“At one time, there were a hundred sisters, including postulants and novices, and there were always between twenty and thirty girls.”
“Oh, it was a boarding school.”
“It was a home for unwed mothers,” replied the abbess.
“Really! Did the townspeople know?”
“A few of them did. But in those days, families went to great lengths to keep their daughters’ delicate conditions secret.”
“How long did the girls stay here?”
“Most of them were here for about a year and a half. Their parents brought them here as soon as they learned of the pregnancy and they remained for a year after the delivery to continue their training.”
“They were taught child care,” said Hilma approvingly.
“Oh no, dear,” said the abbess. “The babies were adopted out within days of their births.”
“So what training did the girls get?”
“I know it sounds archaic now, but unwed mothers were called penitents in those days to encourage them to develop spiritually. They worked alongside our postulants and novices inside the abbey as well as outside in the gardens and barns.”
“I don’t suppose the… penitents were paid,” said Hilma.
The abbess looked at her in surprise. “Of course not,” she said. “They were reimbursing the abbey for room, board and maternity care, all the while learning a variety of practical skills to prepare them for marriageable futures.”
“And the families went along with this?”
“Why yes. Families welcomed the rehabilitation of their errant daughters. Wealthier families made generous donations to the abbey when they picked up their daughters. Some paid to have their girls attend classes with the postulants and earn a Marywood Collegiate and Finishing School diploma while they were here.”
“I guess a certificate would justify their absence to the neighbours when they returned home.”
“Undoubtedly,” said the abbess.
“Did nobody bring their daughters home without the…rehab?”
“There were a few families who paid for their daughters’ expenses upfront and brought them home immediately after the deliveries. A few even claimed the babies, pretending the grandmother or another relative had given birth. But this was rare.”
Black Springs Abbey: Fantasy Elements
Some of the characters at the abbey are rather ethereal:
“We’ll take the back way to the second floor,” said the abbess leading the way through the kitchen.
As they climbed the narrow stairs, she said over her shoulder, “You mustn’t mind Sister Beatrice. She’s really a decent soul.”
One storey up, the stairs paused at a small landing before continuing to a third-floor. Glancing upward, Hilma noticed a girl with long brown hair gazing solemnly down at her from the third-floor landing.
Momentarily distracted, Hilma failed to notice that the abbess was holding the second-floor door open, waiting for her to enter.
“Hilma?” prompted the abbess gently.
“Sorry, Mother Abbess,” murmured Hilma, reaching to take the door.
When the abbess and her visitor exited onto the backstairs, Hilma noticed that the girl she had seen previously no longer stood on the upper landing. She asked the abbess if anyone lived up there.
“The third floor has been vacant for many years and is just used for storage,” said the abbess.
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